The Changing of the Guard
by J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, and Thomas McKay. Sadly. They're the property of The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended. Emily Gambit is mine, even if she doesn't put in an appearance, so I'd prefer it if she wasn't used without permission.
Timeline: Post-series. Very post-series. About 1994, to be exact. Still part of the arc timeline, but obviously quite a bit farther along. For reference purposes, the reader may like to know that I've fiddled with Purdey and Gambit's birth years to make them slightly younger than their respective actors. For my purposes, Gambit was born in 1943, and Purdey in 1948. (Purdey has always seemed younger to me than Joanna Lumley actually was when she played the part). This might prove useful when reading this and other stories of mine.
Author's Note: As I work away at new arc fic (and I am, I promise you), I'm also trawling through my older files for things that I haven't posted. There's one piece I'd like to put here to mark a particular day, which I'll post soon, and there are two others that sort of fit with it to make a little set. All three were written at completely different times and for entirely different reasons, but there are some common threads, namely their setting (i.e., long after the end of the series), and general focus on the passage of time. This is the first, and I'll post the other two in the days to come. They're a bit of a change from my usual fare, but I hope you'll enjoy them. In the meantime, I'll keep working on the arc. Enjoy!
Purdey let herself into the house, stepping over a pair of wellies that someone had neglected to stow in the closet after last night's rain as she entered. She shook her head as she bent to retrieve the scattered pair and return them to the hall closet. Emily's, she identified. The girl was as bad as her father when it came to picking up after herself. That brought Purdey back to the original reason for her midday return to the house. Depositing her half-finished report on the side-table, Purdey removed her coat and draped it over a chair, smirking slightly at her own hypocrisy. But she was planning on leaving shortly, just as soon as she dealt with the more pressing problem upstairs.
At least, she thought he was upstairs. The house was quiet, not uncommon on a Wednesday afternoon when everyone was still at work or school. But today was different—one person was at home. She suspected that he'd heard her enter, but there wasn't any harm in making sure. "Mike?" she called, striding down the hall toward the living room.
"Up here," came a faint voice, and Purdey set about climbing the stairs that would take her to the second floor, and the bedroom.
He wasn't in the bedroom, it turned out--not technically. She found the doors to the small balcony gaping open, and through the fluttering curtains she spotted him, leaning over the railing, looking out over London. Purdey crept out to him, reached out to lay a gentle hand on the base of his neck, just below where the dark curls ended. She felt the knotted muscles under her fingers, kneaded them sympathetically. "You really are worked up, aren't you?" she murmured, feeling him lean back into her touch.
"That's putting it mildly," Gambit sighed, finally turning to face his wife. "I thought you were going back to the Ministry after you'd finished up with the whole Atherton debacle?"
"I did," Purdey confirmed, "and I'm returning just as soon as I've dealt with things here."
"Dealt?" Gambit raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think anything needs dealing with?"
"Mike," Purdey said knowingly, coming to stand next to him. "The instant I heard that they'd conducted interviews this morning, I knew you'd need looking in on. Or did you think I'd forgotten about our little talk earlier?"
Gambit snorted. "You never forget. I've learned that much after all these years, although I didn't think you'd hunt me down quite so fast. I'd given myself at least until the end of the day."
"Then you still have a lot to learn," Purdey said with a smirk. "How did it go?"
Purdey rolled her eyes expansively. "Of course the interview. What else would I mean? Quit stalling and tell me."
"Went all right, I suppose," Gambit divulged with a shrug. "I mean, considering I'm not even sure I want the job…"
Purdey sighed in exasperation. "Don't tell me you've still got cold feet?"
"I'm not sure I'm right for it, that's all," Gambit explained, sounding angry with himself for even putting forward the weak excuse.
"Not right for it?" Purdey exclaimed. "Mike, you'd be replacing Steed. Everyone knows that Steed's always meant for you to carry on in his stead."
Gambit winced visibly. "I wish people would quit saying that," he muttered. "I'm not Steed, and I never will be. Anyone who thinks otherwise is going to be sorely disappointed."
"That's it, isn't it?" Purdey said quietly, stepping over to put a hand on his chest. "You don't think you can live up to the legacy."
"Well, wouldn't you? It's Steed, Purdey-girl. Living legend. It's the end of an era now that he's decided to leave." He reached out absently and brushed aside a lock of blonde hair. "You have to admit those are some pretty damn big shoes to fill," he added quietly.
Purdey nodded to herself, but there was a smile on her lips as she pictured Gambit trying to yank on a pair of enormous Chelsea boots. Gambit frowned at her amusement. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Purdey dismissed. "Mike, I think you're looking at this all wrong. No one expects you to be Steed, especially not Steed himself. I mean, you know he singled you out for more of those little pearls of wisdom than most others in the department, but he never pushed you into any mold. He wanted you to benefit from his experience, but he also wanted you to form your own take on it. Don't you see?"
Gambit sighed. "I suppose. But they can't have too much confidence in me if they're conducting interviews with anyone who's even mentioned wanting the top job."
Purdey shook her head and ran his tie through her fingers. "You really are impossible, aren't you, Mike?" she said affectionately. "You know as well as I do that the powers that be do these things the long way, even if they have someone in mind. Besides, you haven't been too enthusiastic about the idea. They'll need a back-up if you decide not to accept. But everyone knows you're Steed's first choice—except you, apparently."
Gambit covered Purdey's hand with his own, caressed it gently with his thumb. "It's a big step," he murmured after a moment. "I never thought in a million years…well, taking over from Steed and McKay. Doesn't seem possible. Ever since I decided not to go for officer status and dropped out of the Navy…" He shrugged helplessly. "After that stint in Africa I didn't know if I wanted to be in league with anyone ever again, in charge or not."
"Presumably you didn't anticipate the wife and the five scruffy children, either," Purdey observed with a grin.
Gambit looked down at her and grinned back. "No, but I'm glad I was wrong on that count."
"That's just it," Purdey pointed out. "The children. If you want a reason to take it, you've actually got five. We're not in the field as much as we used to be, but there's still a risk, no matter how small, that something will happen and I…" She swallowed. "I don't even want to think about going through that again. We've got a ten-year-old who shouldn't have to know what it's like to lose a father."
"I know," he whispered, pulling her a little closer. That had been the main reason he'd taken the spot Steed had held down when the trio had started working together. When the senior agent had vacated his position as the head of their unit of agents, Gambit had been happy to take a step back from the dangers of field work, to limit the chances of leaving Purdey and their ever-expanding brood behind. Purdey had cheerfully continued in her capacity as a full agent for a few years after that, doing wonderful, marvellous, brilliant things that Gambit hadn't been aware pregnant women could do. But then, Purdey wasn't like most other women, pregnant or not. She worked solo part of the time, sometimes with other agents, and Gambit would join her in the field the way Steed had all those years ago, when it was necessary. But one day, Gambit, who hadn't accompanied her out into the field that time, had found himself staring across his desk at the badly-injured agent who was telling him that his wife had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Mike remembered barely sleeping, devoting every spare moment to the search. He didn't know what he would have done without Purdey's mother, who stepped in to look after the children, without Sara who pulled every resource she could from her friends at MI6. Without Steed, who sat up drinking coffee in the long nights and kept Gambit on an even keel when the younger man had been certain he was going mad. He remembered watching his daughter, the youngest of the new generation to bear the name Gambit, sleep, marvelling at how she had taken so completely after her mother, and fearing that he would have to bring her up on his own. After three days of search and worry, Purdey had emerged relatively unscathed, but she hadn't liked the odds of her return anymore than Mike. With Steed now in McKay's role, it wasn't hard to establish Purdey as Mike's equal partner in heading up the unit. She was 38. Gambit was 43.
Now Mike had recently celebrated his 51st birthday, and Steed, at the grand old age of 72, had decided that he was quite happy to retire to the stud farm. Of course, John Steed would never be completely retired, never more than a phone call or a drive away from his old friends when they needed advice. But his departure had left a gap that needed filling, and Gambit was the odds-on favourite to fill it.
"It wouldn't be the same," Gambit said finally, meeting Purdey's eyes, "with me in charge."
Purdey shrugged. "That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Ministry has been changing. It has to, to survive. Things in the field aren't the same as in Steed's heyday. I think a reinvention would do nothing but good."
"Do you?" Gambit mused thoughtfully. "Hey, why haven't they interviewed you? Don't you want the job?"
Purdey snorted. "The powers that be still aren't that liberal-minded, I'm afraid. Leaving me in charge of the unit after you've gone is already going to be hard for them."
"Then maybe they need someone to shake things up a bit," Gambit asserted. "They've never had two people on equal footing at the top—like Mother and Father all over again, but without the unequal ranking."
Purdey blinked. "Mike Gambit, are you saying…?"
"If I take this job," Gambit said carefully, "would you come onboard with me? I know the top brass'll raise a fuss, but if they want reinvention then we're damn well going to give it to them."
"Two McKays?" Purdey asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Why not?" Gambit was liking the idea more and more. After all, he and Purdey had rewritten more than few rules by marrying in the first place, not to mention the fact that Purdey had made the first request by an agent for maternity leave. She was rather proud of that one.
"You're serious, aren't you?" Purdey murmured in disbelief.
"I've never been more serious in my life. Come on, Purdey-girl. You know as well as I do that we work better together. And I don't see why you shouldn't have a shot at the top job."
"We'd both be off the field, then," Purdey observed, chewing a lip. "Do you think we can manage it?"
"I think so. Then you can finally stop accusing me of exercising seniority."
Purdey grinned. Gambit's enthusiasm was infectious. "All right. We'll try. It'll be the end of an era."
"Start of a new one."
"Cheers." Purdey glanced at her watch. "I have to get back. That report needs filing."
"I'll come along, put the idea forward, watch their eyes roll around in their heads."
"Afternoon entertainment," Purdey chuckled.
"Well, if a job like this can't be fun."
Purdey shook her head. "Mike Gambit…"
Author's Notes: This one was inspired by someone I knew's boss retiring after decades of service. Made me think of Steed and what would happen when he eventually moved on. Purdey and Gambit would be the obvious choices, particularly if they had kids and wanted to phase out the fieldwork.
And yes, they named Emily after the car…